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Which NFC South Team Will Challenge the Carolina Panthers in 2016?

The Carolina Panthers have dominated the NFC South the past three seasons with three division titles and a divisional record of 14-3. We take a look at the other three teams in the division and why they will and why they won't challenge the Panthers in 2016.

Atlanta Falcons

Key Additions: Alex MackMohamed SanuKeanu NealDeion JonesAustin HooperCourtney Upshaw

Key Losses: Roddy WhitePaul SoliaiJustin Durant

Why They Will Challenge the Carolina Panthers:

The Atlanta Falcons started the 2015 season very strong, winning six of the first seven games by new head coach Dan Quinn. This was due in large part to the emergence of Devonta Freeman, which kept defenses honest and allowed Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to excel.

The biggest reason the Falcons will be able to challenge the Panthers is an improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The players last year didn't necessarily fit Quinn's system and as he brings in more players like Courtney Upshaw and Keanu Neal, this group will improve.

Why They Won't Challenge the Panthers:

As well as they started the season, the ended it just as badly. They lost seven of their last nine games, including six straight. This has become a trend for the Falcons as they lost four of their last six in 2014 and eight of their last 10 in 2013.

The fact that this late season collapse continued with a new coaching staff points more to the players. The Falcons will need to prove they can win down the stretch before they can be considered a contender to challenge the Panthers.

New Orleans Saints

Key Additions: Nick FairleyJames LaurinaitisCoby FleenerSheldon RankinsMichael ThomasVonn Bell

Key Losses: Brandon BrownerJahri EvansDavid HawthorneMarques Colston

Why They Will Challenge the Panthers

The short answer is Drew Brees. The Pro Bowler is a prolific passer and with Sean Payton as his head coach have been able to put up incredible points totals. The front office also was able to get him some weapons this year in Coby Fleener and Michael Thomas to go with Brandin Cooks.

The Saints though also invested in a defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in a number of categories and became much stronger up the middle with Sheldon Rankins and Nick Fairley at defensive tackle, James Laurinaitis as inside linebacker and Vonn Bell at safety. If these players can gel quickly, this defense will be vastly improved.

Why They Won't Challenge the Panthers

The Saints are a team that have been in salary cap trouble for a number of years now and while they continue to get top name starters, their depth has suffered. Last year, players like Brees, Mark Ingram and Jairus Byrd all missed time and the Saints did not have players who could step in.

The NFL is a hard-hitting game and the teams that usually have the best seasons are the ones that can fill starting lineups with quality talent when a starter is injured. The Saints right now don't have enough depth to do this and it is hard to imagine they won't lose a player or two over the course of the season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Key Additions: Robert AyersVernon Hargreaves IIINoah Spence

Key Losses: Connor BarthBruce Carter

Why They Will Challenge the Panthers

The Bucs are a young team that looks to be on the rise. Last year's first overall pick Jameis Winston had a promising rookie year and Doug Martin returned in a big way with over 1,400 rushing yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, they have two of the best players at their respective positions in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David.

Why They Won't Challenge the Panthers

While the Bucs have a bright future, it may not be in 2016. They are still a young team and will now be playing for their third head coach in four seasons, Dirk Koetter. While he has been with the organization prior to the change, it is never easy for a head coach to have success his first season.

This is also an inexperience group and it takes time to learn how to win in the NFL. The Bucs finished last year losing five out of their last six games and similar to the Falcons, they will need to prove they can win late in the season.

Who is the Biggest Threat?

The biggest threat to the Panthers at this point would have to be the New Orleans Saints. They have an established coach and quarterback in Sean Payton and Drew Brees, who have been able to win the big game. If the defense can gel with the new pieces they have brought in this offseason, they are sure to be a tougher team in 2016.

Twitter @BrandonCroce

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